Simon eyes snapped up, and his teeth flashed in a grimace.
His right hand came out, even as he parried the axe with his armed left, and buried it into Bray’s gut with a silvered flash.
The swampie’s eyes bulged as the ice-cold fire sprang up in his stomach, feeling both hearts laboring, and feeling the wound spurt.
Simon pushed harder, angling up and twisting his arm, then pulling down, opening the wound further, then yanking his arm away, revealing the blade he’d pulled from the magnetic sheath.
Blood shot from Bray’s mouth as he coughed, and poured from the massive gash in his abdomen.
The swampie fell to his knees, dropping the hatchet, clutching at his stomach. His breath was harsh, rattling up and down his throat with each labored gasp. He pitched over, his eyes never leaving Simon’s, even when his feet kicked and his hands scrabbled, smearing the pool of dark crimson spreading out from his body.
Simon stood, tossed the club to one side, the notched wire having broken, flopping about, the shaft itself nearly cut in two. He slipped Bray’s hand from the thong, and took the swampie’s weapon, sliding it behind his back, where the other had been, switching the .45 stowed back there for a left hand draw, and replaced the knife.
This was definitely a life-saving design, he thought with analytical detachment. He looked at Bray, waiting to see if he’d rise again. When the mutie didn’t move, he grabbed up his weapons, the assault blaster, the extra ammo, the horn of powder and bag of jolt.
He pulled back the bolt partway, checking the load, clicked the safety off, and set the selector to auto.
Holding it at the ready, he pulled open the door, his thumb pressing the latch, and entered.
Mary moaned, almost in ecstasy as the predark foods filled her belly.
She’d finished the coffee, feeling the unfamiliar rush as caffeine roared through her system, energizing her. Her headache stopped suddenly, and the rush was replaced by a dizziness for an instant, which was washed away by the return of the surge of stimulant.
She was now guzzling water, streaming from a waterstone-crusted faucet, turned near full on.
She had abandoned the coffee mug, and had thrust her head under, drawing in as much liquid as she could.
When she pulled her head out, she shook it, and water flew in shining fragments from her hair.
She felt like she had a stone in her belly, her muscles clenched tight. She knew she shouldn’t have eaten so much, so soon after getting even this far, but she’d lost complete control, needing only to fill her hungry stomach up as fast as she could.
She sat down in the corner of the room, blaster in hand, covering the door.
Her body suddenly felt weak, enervated, leeched of warmth and energy.
The sudden change from strength to weakness hit her like a physical blow, her head dropping, her breathing slowing…heartbeat, pounding so fast before easing into a regular rhythm that drummed in her ears, quickly and inexorably drawing her into sleep.
The blaster slipped from the thigh she’d rested it on, thumping to the floor, the echo like that of a distant drum…
Monsters prowled the halls.
The Keep was full of screams, some of agony, some of animalistic pleasure. The walls ran red, and offal was scattered on the floor, hung from brackets and outcroppings on the walls.
Blasterfire still echoed as the last of the Baron’s sec-men defended their positions, quickly barricaded doors and windows shuddering under the impact of mutant fists and bodies.
Through all this, Ryker strode.
His teeth bared in a horrible grin, he surveyed the carnage, smelled the death, and pictured the world this way, with his unstoppable army swarming it, heedless of pain or disease, strong enough to withstand the rad-counts that would kill a norm.
Years of planning, of cultivating, of experimenting…all would be worth it.
His laugh filled the hallway.
A lightbulb, strung up in a room where a headless fat man was being torn to bits dripped with blood, casting a red pall over the feasting below.
Simon passed into a zone of darkness, the muzzle of the Russian weapon probing before him. He placed his feet carefully, mindful of stairs, but instead found that the floor rang with the sound of metal.
As soon as his foot hit the floor, lights sprang to life, a number of them set into the wall, illuminating the corridor beyond, stretching out into the distance.
Apparently the priest hadn’t told him the whole story of his ancestor, because this was no mere fallout shelter, built by a few desperate people before Skydark.
Stenciled letters, faded away to nearly nothing could be seen, along with symbols that looked familiar, but couldn’t be identified without further time, which Simon sensed he was running out of.
He walked along the grated floor. Mentally counting lights, stopping when he reached a hundred, each light spaced nearly five feet apart.
He reached a place where the wall on his right dropped off, revealing a huge room situated just below, the floor about twenty feet down, crammed with huge earth moving equipment, all facing a huge set of double doors.
His tactical mind began running scenarios, intuitively picking out the most likely one.
This had been the place where the families of the lurkers had lived, surviving the nuclear war here beneath the earth. Likely a minor cache of equipment, it hadn’t been hit too hard by the Soviet missiles, and with the supplies they probably had here, rations, fuel and most likely a small nuke gen, were able to last the few years of nuclear winter with relative ease.
Then the riders had come, and conquered.
The people then retreated, and after a time sealed the entrances to their new homes, leaving the spoils to the new people.
They used the equipment to build, then hid it away again, as protection from the elements and from others who would steal it.
But since this was the place the lurkers originated from, then there were likely more rooms.
Mary would be…had to be in one.
Gripping his blaster tighter, he continued, instincts telling him that this quest was coming to a climax.
Green eyes looked up from the carnage, seeing beyond sight, sparking in the intermittent light of a swinging oil lantern. He stood there, his children squirming on the floor, slicked with blood, an agonized cry of pleasure coming from the mass as once-men and-women indulged in a violent orgy of sex and pain.
His lips moved, and his forehead furrowed.
“Not yet,” he whispered.
Simon slowly descended the stairs, climbing down between the huge machines that rested on the predark concrete floor. His eyes scanned the recesses of the chamber, checking for both men, and doors.
He suspected that most of the Baron’s men didn’t even know about this place, Ryker making sure that the vast predark earthmovers stayed secret.
There had to be more to this place, but where were the other entrances? The huge double-slab doors opened up in one of the Baron’s buildings most likely, meaning it was probably covered on the other side with charred ash and broken stone. So that meant that there were more doors…somewhere.
He pushed on.
John Stentson looked down at the killing grounds below him, his eyes barely above the edge of the sheet steel that made up one of the walls of the lookout he was in. Fear gripped his heart every time there was a scream, figuring that they’d thought to see if anyone was up here.
His finger was curled around the trigger of the Colt Combat Elite, the 38-ounce blaster ready to rock, a .45 ACP round under the hammer.
He muttered a prayer, asking for forgiveness for a multitude of sins, knowing that if those muties found him, the blaster would be his only deliverance.
Sunlight came and went, and the muties retreated, going into the Keep below him. He had no doubts that there were more of them scattered throughout what remained of the ville, going from building to building as the re-lit fire slowly ate it’s way through the water-soaked structures with clouds of black smoke billowing into the skies.
He knew he’d have to make his move soon.
The smoke, filling the sky, would be a marker to the ‘jackers who’d been hitting the colonist’s caravans, and know that trouble brewed in Rykerville.
And the muties…they seemed afraid of the sun, like they’d never seen it before. They were afraid of it.
That likely wouldn’t last long.
He’d wait ‘til noon, then take his chances.
His choice made, the fear that was in him drained away.
Simon slowly opened the door.
He’d been searching the chamber for the better part of an hour, finally finding one doorway, sitting beneath a burned out security sign reading: Access restricted to…
The rest was unreadable.
Beyond the doorway was another hall, this one well lit, the concrete floors and walls painted green and white, respectively.
A number of doors lined the hallway, each one topped with a flashing red light. Simon pushed on one, feeling it give beneath the pressure. He looked into the room behind, and found a small mess hall, big enough for fifty or sixty men. Lockers stood open, and showed themselves to be nearly half full of small boxes, which upon closer examination revealed themselves to be microwave ration/dinners.
He looked into another, found cases of ring-pulls, and grabbed one.
Pulling the tab, he greedily guzzled down half the can, his thirst flaring as he realized how long it had been since he’d last had a drink. The water, canned for a century tasted good.
Letting the water settle, he looked around a little more, then, opening another can, poured the fluid over the gashes inflicted by the nails of the swampie, cleansing the wounds.
Feeling somewhat refreshed, with his thirst slaked, Graydon began his search again, prowling down the hall, coming to a door at the end of the hallway, which was actually only fifty or sixty feet long, less than half of the length of the machine area.
“Come in,” said a low, growling voice as Simon hesitated outside. “I’ve been waiting for you, my lucky friend. Most anxiously, in fact.”
With images of a serial killer’s smile in his mind’s eye, Simon entered, and saw this: A large room, white tiled walls and floors with a small grated drain in the middle. Lights burned down, circles of light that sectioned off the thirty-foot room in outlined squares.
It was against the far wall that he stood, dressed in a pair of wrinkled fatigues, combat boots with glints of steel showing through the toes, and a leather vest that showed off his physique.
Shoulder length hair, brown streaked with grey was tied back tightly, showing the cruel, yet handsome face.
His left eye glinted red.
“Hardiman,” Simon said, holding the gun on the apparently unarmed man. The other’s face twitched in a sardonic smile. Simon could see the effects of the fire on the man, see where the flames had come too close, reddening flesh like a sunburn.
“Mr. Graydon.” Hardiman stepped forward, stopped and stretched, muscles like thick ropes beneath the stretched skin popping with the strain. The scars on his face glowed white against the sun- and fire-burned skin.
“Where is she?” Simon demanded, Hardiman only a hair away from being blasted, though the big man didn’t seem to care.
“Who,” Hardiman asked, “are you talking about? Perhaps the blue-eyed girl, with whom the Baron seems to be so taken with?”
The AK barked. The slug zipped past Hardiman’s head, making him flinch. It rebounded from the wall, shattering a tile, richoceting off the floor and ceiling before tinkling to a stop near the drain.
“Where is she?” Simon repeated. Hardiman grinned.
“You’ll never find her if you chill me,” he said. He shrugged his vest off, flung it to the side.
Standing there, Hardiman simply exuded power, like he was more than human, more of an elemental force than flesh and blood.
“Drop your blaster. Drop your other weapons. Face me, and I’ll tell you how to find her before we start.”
Simon let the muzzle of the Russian blaster drop. “Why should I? I kneecap you, and you’ll tell me anything I want to know.”
Hardiman shrugged, still wearing that grin. “You could, I suppose. But you won’t. You want to test yourself against me, just like I want to test myself against you. If in nothing else, we are alike in that.”
The muzzle tracked back up.
Hardiman never flinched. “I have news, of sweet precious Mary.”
“She’ll tell me herself, when I find her.”
“No. No, I don’t think so. You see, it’s about your child.”
A cold rush seemed to freeze his heart. “Child?”
“It seems that when you abandoned her to come to Rykerville, she was carrying a child. I can only assume that it was yours.”
Hardiman had winnowed closer. “Problems in transporting her here. She put up a struggle and I’m afraid I had to teach her a little lesson.”
Hardiman slid a little closer. He was now fifteen feet away from Simon.
“She wailed like a little girl taking it for the first time.”
The way he said it filled Simon’s head with a hideous picture. Had he forced…?
“Shut up!” he yelled, aiming the blaster at Hardiman again.
“She has a small birthmark, on her upper right thigh,” Hardiman whispered, getting closer. Simon had a look of shock spreading across his face. He tried to pull the trigger, but found his finger was locked, immovable.
A vision of Mary’s screaming face filled his mind, and he squeezed his eyes shut, trying to block it out.
Which was exactly what Hardiman was waiting for.
His hand lashed out, snagging the barrel of Simon’s blaster. Simon’s finger finally moved, yanking back, unleashing the full clip of 7.62 rounds.
Hardiman swayed, pushing the barrel down. The bullets smashed the floor, stitching a row of pockmarks across the tiles, marching up the wall, steel jackets flying through the room like wasps.
Then the blaster fell silent.
Hardiman yanked it away, threw it to the side.
His other hand smashed into Simon’s face, rocking it to one side and igniting stars.
Simon felt himself trying to retaliate, but Hardiman just laughed, pulling the weapons from his body one by one.
The hatchet and .45.
The bags of jolt and black powder in the pouch.
Then he was dropped to the floor, feeling faintly like a dog’s toy that had been visciously shaken.
His eyes were full of stars, and his brain felt like it had been scrambled in the mat-trans again.
“Please rise, Mr. Graydon.” The Sec-chief’s voice pierced the haze like a needle through an eye. Simon tasted blood, from where the inside of his mouth had been gashed by Hardiman’s blow. “There is no need to kneel before your betters here. We are all equal in the eyes of the Gods of pain.”
Simon struggled to his feet, the stars, if anything, getting bigger in his minds eye as he rose.
“I have dreamed of you, Mr. Graydon. Nightmared actually, ever since you took it upon yourself to interfere in something that was not your business.” Hardiman turned from the shakey man, letting him recover. “I was punished for your efforts, you see. And I intend to repay you for that. Every bit of humiliation, every day of preparation, every bruise and every scrape. You will beg me to kill you, and I will laugh as you whimper. Perhaps I’ll geld you, and see if you scream like sweet Mary did when I showed her what she’d lost, sloshing around in a bucket of bloody washing water.”
The stars had stopped swirling, steadying at the corners of Simon’s eyes. Simon could make out features, like the stars had faces.
With that realization, Simon remembered the dreams he’d had while under the Powder’s influence, where he’d seen the faces of everyone whom Hardiman had killed in the little ghost ville.
Their faces became sharper, and so did his perception, and when he looked back up at the grinning Hardiman, he saw the big man’s laughing face falter a little.
Then a look of pure homicidal joy filled Hardiman’s face. “Good! You’re ready, at last! You don’t know how I’ve thought about this moment, how I’ve prepared for it.”
Simon was getting sick of the man’s prattling. Why was it that sociopaths so loved to hear themselves talk? “Where is she, Hardiman? Tell me, while you still can.”
Hardiman pointed to a door at the other end of the chamber. “The way to where she is, is through there. But she is both near and far. And she isn’t alone.”
Simon breathed deeply. “That’s all I needed to know,” he said, and raised his hands before him, fists tightly clenched, ready.
Hardiman copied his stance. His teeth were clenched, and spittle ran down his chin as he hissed out his joy. “Time to die,” he said, growling it behind those strong teeth.
And the battle began.
Hardiman swung first, Simon easily ducking beneath, his own fists drilling a one-two combination into Hardiman’s belly.
Hardiman grunted, and brough his knee up, Simon barely able to block the move with his right forearm, gasping as Hardiiman brought down a big fist to smash directly between his shoulder blades, then groaning as the fist came down again, this time just above the kidneys, knocking him to his knees.
“Not so easy to take me, is it,” Hardiman asked, bringing up his knee again, catching Simon under the chin, and sending him sprawling back. “No tricks to save you this time, no boobies anywhere to distract me,” he continued, bringing a foot stomping down on Simon’s exposed hand.
Simon reacted by instinct, pulling the hand away a heartbeat before the deep lugs of the combat boot ground his bones to shattered bits. He kicked out, catching Hardiman on the side of the knee, not hard enough to break it, but enough to drive him back, favoring his leg.
Hardiman watched Simon roll over, get to his feet. The pain in his leg was minor compared to other injuries he’d had, and was easily put out of his mind.
Simon, on the other hand, felt every movement, every breath burn in his lungs, centering on the area that Hardiman had pummeled. The man was strong, and knew how to hurt people.
And he was insane.
gotta be blacker den pitch, boy. Colder den ice. You do what you gotta.
Fire with ice.
He felt the chaotic fires stirring within him flowing, filling his limbs, warming the cold bruises starting on his back. His face flushed with the heat, and he literally trembled as his lungs sucked in huge breaths of air.
Hardiman was coming forward again, ready to punish his opponent more. He’d killed a lot of men in this room, most in the last few weeks, preparing, but there had been others. Thieves, crazies and thrill-chillers, they’d all been here.
He’d beaten them all, often reducing them to heaps of boneless jelly that writhed and squealed in helpless torment. He was the Master here.
Then, Simon whirled, and drove a punishing side-kick into Hardiman’s gut.
The heavily muscled stomch of Hardiman took the punishment, but the blow still had enough power to drive the wind from his lungs.
He bent slightly, and saw Simon’s heel just before it connected with his cheekbone, splitting the skin, and sending the big man stumbling back.
His hands flailed, as he tried to remember the tricks he’d used against fighters like him. He felt one of his hands take a blow, then another connected just above the buckle of his belt. He felt his stomach compress, and felt the bile rising.
He looked up, and realized, as a fist descended that he’d fallen to his knees and not known it.
Then the fist filled his vision.
Simon was focussed on Hardiman, wanting to hurt Hardiman for everything he’d done, everything that he’d implied. He saw, as blow after blow landed on the big Sec-man, the faces that had been haunting the edge of his vision disappearing, fading away as revenge was taken for those whom vengence was out of reach.
He stomped down, barely missing the cat-eyed face as Hardiman rolled away, but caught him on the side of the jaw with another kick, flipping him over.
Hardiman surged up.
Hardiman felt the anger boiling within him, and he spat at the man in front of him, cleansing it of the bitter bile that had filled it. He kicked out, and caugh Simon square in the chest, knocking him off his feet to land on the floor three paces back.
Hardiman grabbed the man’s shirt, pulled him up, and off his feet, Simon’s weight suspended on the end of Hardiman’s arm, struggling for breath as Hardiman drew back his arm, envisioning it going through his opponent’s head.
The fist rocketed forward, but Simon deflected it enough so that it caught the side if his face, tearing open the wounds that Bray had inflicted.
Simon grabbed the Sec-man’s hand with both of his, twisting as he did. Hardiman gasped, and his grip weakened as his hand slipped from the material.
Graydon bore down, still twisting, Hardiman struggling to bend his arm as Simon struggled to straighten it. Hardiman grunted as his elbow locked, then grunted louder as Simon pistoned a foot up into Hardiman’s already abused gut, the bruised muscles getting softer as they tired.
Simon slammed a foot into the knee joint closest to him, and Hardiman roared in pain as the leg gave way with a sickly pop.
Hardiman felt his locked tight elbow go next, as the black-haired man slammed his forearm into it, the pain rushing just ahead of the numbness.
Hardiman wanted to vomit, the pain was so overwhelming, but Simon wouldn’t let him.
“Not yet, Hardiman,” he said, laying a knee against the man’s face, feeling the nose beneath crackle and snap. Simon was lost in his icy fury, and felt driven, not just by his channeled rage, but by the faces that still danced before his eyes.
“I’m not done with you yet,” he grunted, driving his fist against the face that he held up with a handful of sweaty hair. “It’s your turn to feel the pain,” Simon roared, his fist covered with blood.
Then he was slammed into from behind.
Hardiman dropped to the ground, groaning as Simon landed atop him. Simon just as quickly rolled off, facing whoever’d distracted him.
Clutching the gaping, yet now bloodless wound, Bray stood there, his chipped teeth exposed in a feral snarl.
Then he leapt, and Simon met him.
Bray reached for Simon’s face again, apparrently intending to finish the job of ripping his face off, but Simon had different ideas.
He grabbed the swampies wrists, then drove his foot into the gelid organs revealed by the wound.
Bray turned white, and fell to his knees again.
Simon stepped over him, and went to the pile of weapons that Hardiman had stripped from him, picking up the .45.
Bray had fallen on his side, his hands resting on the floor.
There was still very little blood.
Bray went limp.
“Not this time,” and proceeded to empty the clip into the mutie, stopping only when the slide locked back. Not having any more ammo for the blaster, Simon dropped it on the ripped corpse, and turned his attention back to Hardiman.
The ghosts in his vision were all gone now, so anything else he did would be for his own gratification.
Hardiman was unrecognizable, his face battered and hidden beneath a covering of blood, both his right leg and arm were bent at unnatural angles, and his breathing was laboured, the gurgle of fluid telling of maybe a puntured lung, or a perforated diaphram.
Time to end it.
Simon reached for Hardiman’s neck.
His children scampered around him as he lead them down the long, bulb-lit hallway.
The Baron was hunched over, his head still nearly brushing the ceiling. He urged his mutant army on.
He’d seen a darkness gathering, gathering around the pure light of his vision, seeing himself standing alone against a stern, cruel fate. And at his feet had been Hardiman, one of his most cherished, his most trusted, mangled and nearly dead.
He knew that Hardiman had wanted to face his enemy, and he knew where. If he was there, and his vision was true…
He saw red. The red of blood. He saw it as though lenses of pure crimson had been placed on his eyes, and could taste it, fresh as if he were tearing into flesh at that moment.
He rushed on.
“No,” he said. “There’s enough blood on my hands today.” He turned, picked up the knife, hatchet and AK-47, ejected the clip, inserted a full one, leaving him with one more.
Pulling the bolt back, he said; “I’ll let you die cleaner than you’ve let others.”
He lined up Hardiman’s head.
One of his mutants, seemingly all legs and teeth darted ahead, suddenly smelling blood at the end of the hall, beyond the steel door.
Simon heard something beyond the door he’d come through. A scrabbling sound, like that of a massive hound or…
The mutant leaped, seizing the door handle with it’s mouth, and flailed at the latch, desperate to get in and get a taste before the stronger others pushed him away again, like they had before.
One of it’s five feet hit the latch, and the others pushed against the wall, the door opening, granting the creature entrance.
Simon saw the door whip open, and gasped as the freakish thing slipped in, the door closing behind it, but not before Simon saw the multitudes of horror coming behind it.
It looked at the flesh scattered on the floor, saw Simon standing there, and opened it’s maw wide, revealing the rows of serrated teeth there.
Simon fired a burst directly into the center of it, knocking it back as the 7.62 mm slugs tore their way through the creature’s internals.
It dropped like a stone, and Simon turned and ran, going straight for the opposite door, reaching it and pulling it open just as he heard those….things hitting the other.
Brains, dulled by bloodlust struggled to dredge up the memories needed to open the door. Hands slipped from the handle, slicked by blood, getting frantic as the smell of fresh blood grew stronger.
They were brushed aside by their Maker, and they watched with worshipful eyes as he grabbed the door, and pulled it from the frame with a squeal of tortured metal.
The horde flooded the room, swarming over the gutted and stinking body of Bray and the bloodied form of Hardiman, cringing from them as the Baron barked; “Enough! You have all fed enough! After the other! Now!”
Simon dashed down the hallway, hearing the door slamming open behind him. He didn’t dare look back, fearing a tumble in this dim-lit corridor.
But the sounds, the scrabbling and slobbering, the howls of bloodlust spurred him on.
Simon turned a corner, pounded down a flight of spiral steel stairs, bursting through a set of swinging doors, entering a large room that stood empty, except for the one thing that Simon hadn’t expected here.
He came to a familiar looking steel door, thick and shining.
Memory flared, and his gaze jerked to the side, looking for and finding the glowing keypad.
His finger stabbed out and punched the numbers that he prayed worked.
With a hiss, the door opened, this one pivoting in the center, the barrier itself nearly two feet thick.
Simon slipped inside when there was enough room, hitting the lever that sat near the other pad, causing the door to abruptly change direction, the mechanisms within the walls groaning as the inertia of the multiton slab fought them.
It slammed shut, just as the black shapes flooded the room.
Ryker stood over the bodies on the floor.
Simon leaned on the door, breathing heavily. His back ached, and the gashes in the side of his face throbbed. Sweat beaded heavily on his face, and soaked his shirt.
Could those things he saw get in?
If they could, he’d have to slow them down.
He took out the hatchet.
The sun burned high in the sky, the air dry and hot, shadows having shrunk back into the recesses of the walls of the remaining buildings that stood in Rykerville.
Smoke hung heavy, dimming the light somewhat, but the light still burned down, the chem-clouds having been swept away by the hurricane winds scouring the upper sky.
John Stentson crept down the ladder, his Colt stuck in his belt in a right-hand crossdraw. Sweat drenched his face, running down, and sticking his shirt to his body. His throat felt dry, and his eyes itched from the sweat dripping into them, and the heat radiating around him.
Another hour, and the ground would be dry enough to swirl into dervishes of dust that would track along the streets, chasing down anyone not yet covered.
Not that anyone would be there.
Except for himself and the mutie army that hid in the shadowed doorways and abandoned houses, Rykerville was deserted.
No, he corrected. Not deserted.
The only good thing was that the fire was picking up strength again, wood giving up moisture to the sun, and then being consumed by the flames.
As long as those triple-stupe muties stayed inside…
Of course, it also made the way harder for him, because the nearest wallgate was directly across from where the fire blazed stronger and stronger. But he was determined to get out of this pesthole now, before the muties got brave.
Stentson crossed the roof of the Keep, avoiding the traps built into the structure, and got to the small stairway safely.
Built like a predark fire escape, the wooden stairs zig-zagged down the wall, ending just before the door to the kitchen. Johnny eased himself down those stairs, cringing at every creaking step. The smell of death became worse as he descended, nearly choking him when he hit the ground.
Holding back his nausea, he walked along the ground, still damp from the shadow of the Keep, feeling his feet sink into the grassy mud. He was just a few steps away from the little guardhouse at the small gate when he heard that first, heart-stopping grunt.
Stentson spun, gun drawn and tracking, centering on the forehead of a mutie, it’s face covered with the compound eyes of an insect, it’s mouth smeared with blood from the half-eaten human arm it held in it’s hands.
Simon looked around at this new chamber he was in, feeling the recycled air blowing around him, chilling his skin as the coolness caressed him.
Comp monitors sat, working on some unknown problem, while colored lights blinked on and off, no discernable pattern to be seen. Soft padded chairs sat before the comps, and slight scuff marks showed where some tech in the far past had laid his feet, the rubber soles of his or her shoes grinding into the painted floor.
The room itself was small, circular, some thirty feet in diameter.
And in the center of the room, sat the mat-trans.
The co-ordinate display comp monitor and keyboard were covered by a placard, neatly lettered “DON’T TOUCH” , and appeared to have been there for awhile, though the Mat-trans itself appeared to have been recently used.
He had know idea where he’d go, if he jumped, but if it came to that…
Simon turned his head, and heard the impact beyond the door he’d just come through.
The mob threw themselves at the sec-steel door, some bashing thier own brains out in the process. Claws dug at the vanadium door, suckered hands grasped and pulled at the slick surface, all to no avail.
Oddly enough, it was the weakest looking one of the bunch, only four feet tall, bloated up until it was as round as a ball who had the closest call with success.
It stood there, and spat at the door. The black spittle shot out, and clung to the metal, oozing down the surface, leaving it streaked and pitted. It hawked again and again, gobbing black acid that began to eat through the silvered barrier in front of them.
“Stop,” said the voice of their God.
They stopped, and Ryker came through the crowd, standing before the pitted door.
He growled, and reached for the keypad.
Simon pulled the door of the mat-trans shut, hearing the mechanism lock and the comps begin their cycling.
He watched with some trepedation as the silvery mists descended from the ceiling, and felt the same coming from the floor, swirling around him like fog from dry ice.
He saw the door of the main chamber move slightly, then stop.
Then Simon fell into the darkness, remembering the hatchet and pounding it into the slight space between the bottom of the door and the floor to act as a wedge, with the metal cap of the AK-47’s stock.
Mary woke with a start, nearly shooting herself in the foot as she sat up straight.
She’d been having another dream, this one with herself and Simon, sitting alone in the wild, grasses swaying in the wind, trees with crowns of full green lending themselves for shade.
They were digging into a basket, pulling out what they’d brought for themselves.
Mary handed Simon a blaster, glowing silver in a errant stream of sunlight, and he in turn gave her one of deepest black, oil sparkling in the light like a field of stars.
“I give you my heart,” he said to her, releasing the black weapon. She heard herself replying, as though the words were practiced.
“I give you mine.”
The exchange of blasters done, they held the blasters up, aimed at one another.
“I give you my life.”
“I give you mine.”
The muzzles spat flame, and that’s when she’d awoken.
She sat there, shaking. Then she pushed herself to her feet, and drank another mouthful of water, letting the stream run over her face.
She didn’t know what the dream meant, and she couldn’t think on it right now.
She had an escape to finish.
One step at a time.
The young woman opened the door, and walked out, her gun pointed down and held two handed.
She heard a noise and cursed, spinning to see three black-masked Overseers standing shock still!
The blaster came up, even as they began to move, and roared, the .45 caliber round crossing the distance in an instant, instantly emasculating the first one, his shriek echoing even above the boom of the pistol in the narrow hallway.
She was tracking the next one even as the first fell, clutching at his mangled privates, blood spurting from between his fingers.
The blaster spoke again, this time richoceting off the wall, the deformed slug tearing into the side of one of the other Overseers. Rebounding from a rib, the man groaned as the bullet lodged in his lung, the sudden entry and loss of pressure through the entrance collapsing it.
The remaining man flicked his wrist, and a whip snaked out, snapping the gun from Mary’s grasp. Another flick, and she gasped when a gash opened in her pantleg, her thigh starting to leak blood.
Expressionless behind the mask, he cracked the whip again, and this time, Mary cried out when the tip scored a red trail across her forearm.
Mary turned tail, and ran.
She felt the whip just miss her, the air stirring as the tip snapped!
Mary could hear the man behind her, his footsteps pounding closer, then felt his arm encircle her waist, lifting her from the ground, then slamming her into the wall.
The breath was driven from her lungs, and her sight dimmed a little.
She struggled as best she could, but her hand-to-hand skills were lacking, her father having taught her a little, and Simon having taught her some more. But she couldn’t see any way to fight her way out of this.
So she wouldn’t.
She let herself go limp, which the man would see as submission or weakness from his manhandling.
Being no fool, he slammed her into the wall again.
This time she nearly did pass out, her hands barely able to take the majority of the shock. She felt dizziness stir behind her eyes as she was dropped to the ground.
She felt his hands pull open the buttons on her shirt, and then his fingers as they reached in and squeezed her breast.
“Pretty,” he said, his voice muffled.
He knelt over her, and through slitted eyes, she saw him unbuttoning his pants.
Before she realized it, her hand pulled out from where it was trapped between her side and his straddling leg, and drove the heel of her hand into his face.
The Overseer’s head snapped back, and blood ran from the vent holes around the mouth. Mary did it again, just as his head was coming forward again, and this time she felt something give beneath the mask.
The man rolled off of her, pulling the mask until it came off, spitting out blood and a broken front tooth.
Mary scrambled to her feet, and ran off down the hall, towards the sliding doors, which opened smoothly.
Throwing the rope over the side, she glanced behind her, and saw the unmasked man charging towards her, his face twisted in rage.
“Gonna chill you bitch! Gonna rip your tits off, and feed’em to the muties while you watch! I’ll…” The rest was lost as Mary slid down the rope, pushing herself off so she’d swing right onto the balcony of the lower floor. The braided sheet rope held, creaking as she swung out and in, her foot landing on the railing.
Pulling herself over, she heard a yell, and the rope came loose in her hands. Letting go of the rope, she desperately grabbed at the railing her foot was hooked on, doubling over to such an extent, she was sure that her muscles would snap.
She felt something brush her back, even as she seized the rail, and looked down, seeing the still yelling man just before he hit the broken, rocky ground, followed by the shredded remains of the rope.
He bounced once.
Mary pulled herself up, and flopped over onto the floor of the balcony.
Now, more than ever, she wanted to find a dark corner to curl up in. She just wanted to let the world go by, wanted it to leave her alone.
She lay there for another minute, then struggled to her feet.
Then she opened the doors, and went inside.
End of Part 9